KITCHENER -- Belleville Bulls defenceman Shawn Lalonde was fully aware of what he'd be facing in Claude Giroux.
Sunday nights in the summer, he plays shinny with the Gatineau Olympiques star at the Ray Friel Recreation Complex in Orleans.
"There's no hitting," Lalonde said yesterday morning, when asked if he had any luck containing Giroux in the weekly get-togethers. "If there was hitting, then maybe. But there's just no chance with the hands that he's got. He just makes it look like he doesn't try."
Lalonde admitted that, other than what he'd seen on some scout film, he didn't know much about the other half of Gatineau's deadly duo: Paul Byron.
"Only that he's really quick," said Lalonde, a terrific skater himself who, as a potential first-round draft pick this June, will be the highest-ranked Ottawa-area player available.
Hours later, Lalonde had the chance to see up close the magic Giroux and Byron are capable of together. With the Bulls ahead 3-2 in the second period of the Memorial Cup battle between two 0-1 teams in dire need of a win, Byron stepped out of the corner and snuck an unbelievable pass through a tiny opening by Lalonde, goalie Mike Murphy and defenceman Geoff Killing. At the other end of the feed was Giroux, who slid the puck into the open net for his first goal of the tournament.
The fact that Byron and Giroux could produce only one goal between them leaves Gatineau in a precarious position. After last night's 6-3 loss, they have to beat Spokane tonight to force a tie-breaker Thursday that will determine the second semi-finalist. The silver lining is the Chiefs will have nothing to play for this evening, since Belleville's win guaranteed Spokane a spot in Sunday's final. The bad news is the 2002 Victoriaville Tigres are the only team to make it to the final after playing a tie-breaker. No club has ever won the Memorial Cup going that route.
"Tonight my thoughts are not about winning the tournament," Gatineau coach Benoit Groulx said. "They're about playing Thursday."
Said Giroux: "Right now (the Chiefs) are the best team here. If we want a chance to win, we have to play better than we have the last two games. No way we're going to win if we play like we did (last night)."
STARTS AND STOPS
The Memorial Cup is having a busy week. Yesterday, it visited a Waterloo legion branch and about 20 veterans, one of whom had fought in both World War II and the Korean War. Especially thrilled and honoured to meet that gentleman was one of the Cup's escorts, a soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan. Today, the Cup will be the esteemed guest at a Drayton school and then the Drayton Theatre, where Stompin' Tom Connors is delivering a matinee performance. Drayton is close to Kitchener and not so far from Tillsonburg, a word that still makes Stompin' Tom's back ache, his fans know ... For those who don't fully appreciate the prestige of the trophy, the Memorial Cup was named in honour of Canadian soldiers who fought and died in World War I, some of whom were apparently pretty damn good hockey players. It is celebrating its 90th birthday and is worthy of all the respect it gets, and more .... When's a better time to score your first goal in major junior hockey than the Memorial Cup? To score at the Memorial Cup when your team is down 2-0 and desperately needing a rallying point in a must-win game. Gatineau rookie Hugo Laporte had just three points, all assists, in 41 regular-season games, and two more helpers in 19 playoff games, when his shot from the right point found its way over Murphy's shoulder in the first period. "It was awesome," Laporte said of scoring. "I was waiting for it and it happened at the right moment." ... An Olympiques loss tonight is bad for the tournament. It would set up a totally meaningless Kitchener-Belleville tilt tomorrow and would mean no game at all Thursday.
Walking around the Aud last night with a Toronto Blue Jays cap on backwards was Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry. The guy is too rich and famous to be walking around in public like that -- especially in a rink where they loathe Perry and his younger brother, Belleville centre Adam. Better off turning the cap around and pulling it down low, incognito-like ... Orleans native Ben Shutron will go back in the NHL entry draft if he isn't signed by the Chicago Blackhawks by June 1. The 'Hawks selected Shutron, a former Kingston Frontenac defenceman who was traded to the Kitchener Rangers at this year's deadline, in the fourth round (95th overall) of the 2006 lottery. "It doesn't bother me. Whatever happens, happens," said Shutron. "If you look at our team, with the exception of (overager) Mike Duco, all the 2006 and 2007 draft picks haven't been signed yet. Our main focus here is just to worry about our hockey. We just know to keep it in the back of our mind that we're playing for a contract."
Best costume of the night award goes to the Bulls fan sitting just down from our spot in the south-end press box who was wearing a foam goalie mask/balaclava with a red light on top while holding a long speaker in his hand and a computer on his lap that generated various generally annoying noises. One of those sounds was some kind of weird laugh track, annoying enough that it prompted a pretty local TV reporter to contemplate taking it from him and sticking the laughing speaker in the guy's, um, eye. Or something ... Both teams' power-play numbers (Bulls 1-for-10, 'Piques 0-for-7) were misleading. Four times the Bulls took penalties shortly after the Olympiques, leaving both teams with abbreviated chances. Gatineau was hurt most by the two shorthanded goals it allowed. "Devastating," said Groulx ... Gatineau defenceman Hubert Labrie, a game-time decision after injuring his ankle in the opener, sucked it up and played. He did crawl to the bench in obvious pain on his first shift, but was back for the rest of the game.